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Eddie George revisits the Bard in Nashville Shakespeare Festival's Othello

Running Back for Moor

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The 1995 Heisman Trophy, 10,441 career rushing yards as an NFL running back, four Pro Bowls, one Super Bowl appearance — Eddie George's football career was nothing if not serious. Now 40 years old, the former Tennessee Titans star has continued to apply his formidable work ethic to showbiz — mainly televised sports commentary, but also acting. When it comes to the latter, George has accomplished a lot more than other ex-jocks, who have historically gone in for action flicks or other endeavors involving cameras and retakes.

George's live stage exploits with the Nashville Shakespeare Festival — in the title role in Julius Caesar in 2012 and currently in Othello — reveal the striking form and noble bearing of a man courageously working without a net. His efforts drew special attention on opening night, Jan. 9, in the person of veteran television journalist Armen Keteyian, sitting on the aisle in Row G and on the beat for 60 Minutes Sports, which is preparing a story on George for broadcast on Showtime in February.

George avoids being thrown for an artistic loss here, which is certainly encouraging news for his fans. He certainly has presence: At 6-foot-3, he's still a very muscular Adonis who moves, not surprisingly, more like a gridiron bruiser than a thespian who might have studied with a movement teacher. But that kind of physicality suits the role of Othello the Moor quite credibly, and George cuts an imposing figure in costume designer June Kingsbury's military garb, which seems closer in style to contemporary Libya than 16th century Venice.

As a Shakespearean actor, George still has room for improvement. Many of his line readings are rushed, rendering the Bard less intelligible. He would do well to slow down and declaim the words with more care. At this point, his work is sufficient but not technically inspired.

Nevertheless, George is logically cast in director Jon Royal's production, which is competently staged, if devoid of a consistent dramatic spark — strange indeed given a scenario rife with malevolence and murder most foul. (Anne Willingham's lighting is, as always, professionally rendered, but it lacks nuance; it's too bright for so much psychological treachery.)

In many ways this play belongs to the character Iago, possibly fiction's greatest villain and player of mind games. Nat McIntyre gets the assignment, a union pro with some heft himself and a good physical match for his better-known co-star. McIntyre works the angles of his deviltry with clarity and a certain level of subtlety, though he might have played things even slyer.

As the doomed Desdemona, statuesque Laura Crockarell is also a good physical match for George. After a lot of steady work with various other local theater companies, she makes a successful NSF debut. Another somewhat surprising but rewarding piece of casting is Erin Parker as Iago's wife, Emilia. Probably known best in Middle Tennessee as a musical comedy performer, Parker also makes her NSF debut with a solidly professional turn that brings a less-heralded role to palpable life. (Does Shakespeare still merit spoiler alerts? If so, here's your warning: Both ladies die moving deaths.)

Other worthy players include Eric D. Pasto-Crosby, Ross Bolen, Jennifer Richmond, and Obadiah Ewing-Roush, with special accolades to Derek Whittaker, whose portrayal of the aggrieved Brabantio in the early going offers the most exciting moments of stentorian classical speechmaking. (Alas, he never returned to the stage after that.)

In sum, this Othello is not as foreboding as it could be and has patches that drag in both acts. Yet the run-up to the eventful climax has some power, and is entertaining in the manner of a great bloody potboiler, whether it be opera or film noir. (All that was missing was the blood.)

Note: George's understudy, John Brooks, will perform as Othello Jan. 16, 17, 18, 19, 23 and 24.

Held hostage

ACT 1's production of Lee Blessing's Two Rooms is another dark piece of theater that opened last week. It dates from the 1980s, a byproduct of America's first experiences with hostage crises in the Middle East. The play is a dour exercise in which we witness interweaved episodes of the hopelessness of a prisoner in Beirut and his wife back in the States. Two people enter the home-front scene, a reporter and a State Department official who may be self-serving or disingenuous — or even worse, powerless. Scott Hutcheson's direction is less dynamic than the story's political situation, and the leading performances by Daryn Jackson and Bralyn Stokes veer from somewhat convincing histrionics to earnest amateurism. Phil Brady and Natalie Stone add support but not salvation. The play continues through Jan. 25 at Darkhorse Theater.

Email arts@nashvillescene.com.

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